Archive for September, 2008

FLOSS: fresh, local, organic, sustainable, seasonal – Seattle’s Farmers’ Markets

Saturday, September 13th, 2008


By Jesse Oona Nickerson LEED AP

“Eat your vegetables” has become a battle cry of mothers against presumed unwilling subjects. What’s a mother to do? Apparently she’s to shrug and hand the kids a gigantic cup of carbonated corn syrup. Corn is a vegetable, right? Good because on average we are consuming 54.6 gallons of soft drinks per person per year.

Mom is losing no doubt because our vegetables have come to lack two features of interest: nutrition and flavor. Storage and transport take predictable tolls on the volatile plant compounds that subtly add up to taste and food value. Breeding to increase shelf life also has tended to decrease palatability. Bizarre as it seems, we’ve accepted a tradeoff that amounts to: give me every vegetable in every season, even if it tastes like a cardboard picture of its former self.”

From Barbara Kingsolver’s: Animal Vegetable Miracle [1]

When I was growing up in Italy, the trip to the local open market on Saturdays was a tradition.  My mother and I would head out at lunchtime to beat the crowds.  Equipped with knapsacks and various tote bags, we hit the huge parking lot where the vendors displayed their produce from sunrise to sunset year round.  As we rounded the corner I remember being met with the cries of the vendors advertising the qualities of their merchandise in often picturesque and theatrical ways.

These were years – the mid 80’s and early 90’s – when what was available in the markets, but also largely supermarkets, was what was grown locally.  Fresh, local, organic, sustainable, and seasonal was the only thing I knew.  We only ate fresh tomatoes in the summer and resorted to the canned and dried variety in the cold months.  As spring arrived, also came the artichoke season.  At times we even carried home as many as ten at a time, and, although their thorns scratched my legs all the way back, the reward in a risotto or salad was worth it.  Then came the crisp and tender asparagus that I adored, followed by an explosion of strawberries in late spring.  As summer announced itself, along with the apricots and peaches would appear the first tomatoes, a sign that we had truly entered the hot months.

Close to three years ago, I moved to Seattle after an interval in New York City in my mid to late twenties.  Shortly after my arrival, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who love food in this town. Their interests span cultures and travel into the specifics and quality of taste and tradition.  I was mesmerized: not only could you find coffee just as good as in Italy, but also prosciutto crudo at a tiny hole in the wall called Salumi [2] just around the corner from my work near Pioneer Square.  In addition to the huge variety of excellent restaurants the city has to offer, I discovered Washington State’s very own abundance of local produce from berries, peaches, apricots, and apples, to all kinds of fresh vegetables. [3]

It was with great joy that shortly after I became aware of the presence of the Farmer’s Markets. [4] Throughout Seattle there are seven markets in different neighborhoods, on several days of the week.  Local producers bring their best assortment of seasonal goods: fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, herbs, nuts, honey, dairy products, eggs, poultry, mushrooms, meats, fish and shellfish, flower arrangements, and nursery stock.  Some processed foods include jams, preserves, wine, ciders, pickled vegetables, fresh pasta, artisan breads and other baked goods.

I was struck by the genuine quality and freshness of the products and I immediately became a believer.  In each season, and as often as I can, I venture to the Famers Market.  My personal favorite, and also the closest to me, is the one in Columbia City.  When I visit this ‘up-and-coming neighborhood’ that has maintained and grown around its small-town main drag, with its butcher, small bookstore, and brewery, I inevitably pay a visit to the bakery. [5]  I either buy a seeded ficelle (a thinner version of a baguette with various seeds), or a whole grain loaf and I often splurge on their famous “everything but the kitchen sink” cookies, their almond macaroons, or their Sicilian plum cookies.  These are small treasures that brighten an afternoon, or complete a late night dinner.

 I have became aware again of the rotational aspect of the seasons and of how wonderful it is to wait through the long and grey months, to finally taste the crisp greenness of early asparagus, or to spot the first peaches with their dappled fuzzy coats and warm aroma.  Nothing in the world to me compares to the burst of crimson flavor that is contained in a strawberry that has never boarded a plane.

 There is a chapter unto itself, and that is held by the tomatoes.  Having grown up in Italy, tomatoes not only are a staple to most of my dishes, but they also come in a huge variety of kinds and sizes, for eating raw, or cooking, for making bruschetta, or for drying in the sun.  I had long given up on them in the US as the store-bought kind had only resulted in a spongy, light pink, and tasteless mass that was not applicable for anything edible.

As my first summer wore on, I began to notice tomatoes at the market.  Hesitantly, I picked one up, and immediately remarked its smallness, firmness, and shiny coat, which was bright red but seemed to exude a sheen of green under its translucent skin.  Apart from its tactile and visual qualities, it really was the aroma that wafted up to my nostril from its skin that gave the little fruit away.  The vendor stared at me and chuckled under her breath, prompting me to try one.  Reluctantly, I glanced at her, as I did not want to disappoint with my notorious pickiness, and bit into the tomato.  I was met with resilience, and, as I made my way into its flesh, there was an explosion of flavor that denoted both tartness and sweetness: a world that told of summer, dry earth and heat.  Memories flooded my mind flying back in time.  I greedily bought two pounds of uneven little tomatoes and also grabbed some basil and small potatoes that ranged from gold, rose pink, and a dark sheen of purple that almost looked black.

I drove home flying on my Vespa.   After slicing a few tomatoes, I sprinkled them with sea salt, drizzled them in olive oil, and chopped basil leaves.  I cut myself a large slice of whole-grain bread and ate greedily.  As I finished the dish, picking up the last remnants of oil, tomato seeds, and basil, with half closed eyes, I mused on what I had just found.


[1] Barbara Kingsolver: ‘Animal Vegetable Miracle’, Harper Collins, NY 2007


[2] Salumi Artisan Cured Meats
308 Third Avenue South
Seattle WA 98104
206 621 8772


[3] For 2003, the total value of Washington’s agricultural products was %5.79 billion, the 11th highest in the country. The total value of its crops was $3.8 billion, the 7th highest. The total value of its livestock and specialty products was $1.5 billion, the 26th highest.

In 2004 Washington ranked first in the nation in production of red raspberries (90% of total U.S. production), wrinkled seed peas (80.6%), hops (75%), spearmint oil (73.6%), apples (58.1%), sweet cherries (47.3%), pears (42.6%), peppermint oil (40.3%), Concord grapes (39.3%), carrots for processing (36.6%), and Niagara grapes (31.6%). Washington also ranked second in the nation in production of lentils, fall potatoes, dry edible peas, apricots, grapes (all varieties taken together), asparagus (over a third of the nation’s production), sweet corn for processing, and green peas for processing; third in tart cherries, prunes, and plums, and dry summer onions; fourth in barley and trout; and fifth in wheat, cranberries, and strawberries.

The apple industry is of particular importance to Washington. Because of the favorable climate of dry, warm summers and cold winters of central Washington, the state has led the U.S. in apple production since the 1920’s. Two areas account for the vast majority of the state’s apple crop: the Wenatchee-Okanogan region (comprising Chelan, Okanogan, Douglas, and Grant counties), and the Yakima region (Yakima, Benton, and Kittitas counties).

[4] For locations, to find out what is ripe and ready or for more information see:


[5] Columbia City Bakery
4865 Rainier Avenue S.
Seattle WA 98118
(206) 723-6023

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Environmental, functional and playful: Kerf Design’s cabinets

Friday, September 12th, 2008


By Jesse Oona Nickerson, LEED AP

ZDS has developed an ongoing relationship with the Seattle-based custom furniture and cabinet shop Kerf Design.  We have chosen to use Kerf Design repeatedly, from principal Suzanne Zahr Fleming’s own kitchen, bathrooms and office, to the Terrace Home family room in Bellevue.  The reason lies in the company’s ability to deliver a product that not only embraces inspirational creativity from the design standpoint – allowing each project to be snugly fitted around the needs of the client – but is supported by a rock solid philosophy that anchors itself in sustainable design.  Kerf Design consistently delivers outstanding craftsmanship.

Kerf Design creates modern cabinets that are made of plywood and plastic laminate.  Most of their cabinets are composed of ¾” alternating layers of high quality birch and alder hardwood plywood finished with oak or walnut.  The edges of the solid core are left exposed, achieving one of the signature elements of their design.  By using simple, sustainable materials, which are FSC certified and free of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), Kerf grounds itself in the desire to respect both the environment and its inhabitants.  From a formal standpoint the result is a sleek, modular, and playful product that echoes Scandinavian Design and the work of Charles and Ray Eames.

 The interplay of colors and of open and closed cabinets, based on geometric and functional requirements, sets them apart from the often seen minimal backdrop of wall-to-wall cabinets that address all their inside objects indistinctly.  The drawers constructed by Kerf adopt a highly technical mechanism, which allows them to slide in and out so smoothly at a varying speed based on the intensity of the touch.  If creative solutions in design is one of Kerf’s strong points, it is the construction process itself in which the shop’s pride in its craftsmanship can truly be detected.  The characterizing element of their design is the clarity and honesty of their details, which often include dado and dovetail joints instead of unsightly and complicated screws and fasteners.  I think that may also be the secret of their success.

Kerf also offers a line of affordable custom DIY cabinets designed for the do-it-yourself homeowner or contractor.  This series, which is designed specifically for the kitchen but can be adapted to other spaces, has a set of unique joints that make for easy assembling outside of the shop.  The hardware parts are packed flat and shipped along with the cabinets, and all one needs to put them together is glue, a screw gun, and standard screws. 

ZDS works in close relation with their clients, and also sub-consultants like Kerf to develop a design that fits the particular needs and habits of each customer.  For example in the Terrace Home family room, where an exotic veneer called black limba wood was used, a series of open faced shelves alternate closed cabinets and a sliding glass panel to conceal office equipment and a stereo.  At the corner a small desk pivots out creating an audio-video access or a workstation in the children’s play-area.  In her own kitchen Suzanne Zahr designed an L-shaped open bar that allows for a seamless and organic interplay between the kitchen and the dining area. 

The counter, which is both cook-top and bar, is the hearth of the house, where food is prepared and conversations are held.  Its top features a matte off-white laminate, whereas the sides create a modular play of powdery light blue and chocolate brown- veined wood cabinets that are framed by the lighter tone of the open-faced plywood edge.  The cabinets actually follow a strict functional program, notwithstanding the artistic feel of their Mondrian-like rectangles.  Their pull system consists of a simple cavity in the shelf base itself.  Tall and thin open shelves are just the right size for long-stemmed glasses, whereas short and squat ones house smaller items.  There are closed slim cabinets just for cutting boards and on one end is an open shelf section dedicated only to cook books, ready for the last minute consultation just when needed.  Here everything has its place and the result is an environment that is molded around the specific personality of the people who live in it, evoking a feeling of comfort alongside that of clean and modern design. 



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Call for Architects

Friday, September 5th, 2008


By Suzanne Zahr Fleming, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP

There is a tendency in most industries for upper level management to hire and promote people very nearly like them.  What this does to the Architectural industry is narrow the range of ideas, and the possibility for inspiration.  We must break free of our comfort zones and learn to see the artistic value of diversity.  It is not enough to simply say that diversity is important, and then fall back on predictable patterns.  Leaps of faith must be made in order to promote innovation.

Though more women and minorities are joining our field at the University level, they’re still severely underrepresented on the managerial level. Why is this?  Wouldn’t our industry benefit from their leadership contributions?  Such diversity would naturally spark healthy debates leading towards more innovative design solutions.  What is preventing this natural evolution of practice?  Is it the need for more open-minded upper level management?  A better advocacy by our professional societies?  A lack of proper mentorship?  All of the above?   

Architecture suffers from a lack of diversity; as a result we’re constrained by very narrow parameters.  Without the creative courage to break from our specific socio-economic, gender and/or racial constraints, we’re trapped in a repetitive cycle of design.  What you end up with is the lion’s share of the industry pursuing the same narrow spectrum of clientele.  What can this be if not the death of the creative impulse of our profession?

What is the basis of inspiration if not the will to push our own personal boundaries?  I say that inspiration is itself a passion for pushing boundaries.  Without the will to break new ground, there is no inspiration.  The joy of creativity in this regard rests in mapping new terrain.  To do so, we need to curiously explore and learn from the immense diversity that surrounds us.

Take, for instance, the increasing interest in and demand for environmental sustainability.  When ‘green’ design emerged on the horizon, it was foreign and took a leap of faith.  Those Architects who embraced it were only able to do so because of their flexibility of imagination.  As a result, they’re now leading the charge towards ensuring biodiversity.  Those who rejected it due to their rigid thinking, are playing catch up. 

How can Architects lead the charge in achieving better social and cultural diversity within our profession and for those we serve?  Let’s begin by putting more energy and effort into empathizing with cultures that are not our own.  Because of their lack of initial acceptance, women and minorities have more to prove and are therefore less complacent.  Incorporating this sensitivity to the diversity around us would enrich the process in creating Architecture and thereby enrich our built environments and strengthen our communities.

Call for Architects:  The profession of Architecture is seeking mindful, socially aware Architects to serve as living role models for interns entering the profession.  Such candidates are challenged to mentor, promote and encourage the current and next generation, remembering that only with diversity can our profession flourish.


Suzanne Zahr Fleming is an Arab-American Architect in Seattle, WA.  Suzanne moved to the Northwest in 1997 after getting her Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University in New York City.  She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Structural Engineering with a Combined Minor in Fine Arts & Art History from the George Washington University in our nation’s capital. 

After obtaining valuable experience working for local firms, Suzanne decided to take the plunge and begin her own practice in the fall of 2002.  ZDS Architects ( has since grown into a vibrant studio that offers full-service Architecture, Interiors & Graphic Design services with a focus on environmentally sustainable solutions.  

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